Using hashtags, also known as the pound sign (#), is a way to create and collect like-minded communication or influence. The little tic-tac-toe looking symbols are used regularly by millions of social media users to turn phrases and words into searchable links. A hashtag is used to unite posts about specific topics and collect those who want to participate in the meaningful conversations wherever they are in the world.
Hashtags are effective. They can be traced back to 2007, to resident of San Diego, California who started appending all his posts with the #sandiegofire. It was intended to inform people worldwide about the ongoing wildfires in the area at the time. His ability to gather people in unity and curiosity was quickly noted by communication and marketing experts.
Hashtags are fire starters! Most recently, I personally experienced the power of using a hashtag inappropriately.
As a confession, the Sunday after George Floyd was murdered, in a Pollyanna effort to create neutrality, I created a deep polarity within the SWIHA community by using the hashtag #alllivesmatter. I had no idea that the misuse of what I thought was an innocuous term would create such a firestorm, followed by deep shame and remorse on my part. Without thinking, I used my personal interpretation of what I thought was a lovely sentiment, without properly educating myself to the struggle and intention of the #blacklivesmatter movement
Now I know. I am truly grateful to have been confronted on this blindspot, because now I can educate myself and others on a topic that I have been privileged to avoid in my everyday life — until now. Very quickly I’m learning the importance of using the hashtag #blacklivesmatter.
The most poignant explanation I seen to explain the division and dismissiveness of “all lives matter” vs “black lives matter” was this:
Imagine you have been invited to a funeral of a precious child. You are asked to say something as part of grieving process. Yet, instead of addressing the child you are there to mourn for, you start telling those gathered about all of your precious grandchildren, without acknowledging the death of the one you were there to honor. How insensitive would that be?
I am beginning to understand. My mantra has become: “When we know better, we can do better.”
It can get pretty uncomfortable when we are asked to look at a blindspot, especially around such a vulnerable subject as racism. As we seek to understand, it’s a personal choice whether we choose to accept being confronted with new insights and harsh realities with graciousness or defensiveness.
The leaders, staff, and instructors at SWIHA have agreed to adopt a even deeper commitment to listening and understanding. We will hear us say: “Help me understand so we can better serve and honor you!”
What we have come to understand is BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) feel #alllivesmatter is invalidating, infuriating and offensive. We believe them. Regardless of what your personal interpretation is, or your intention behind using that phrase, SWIHA has listened to that feedback from those living the experience of a Black American. Our stance is #blacklivesmatter.
What we as allies can do better:
Be informed. Know what hashtag means and why they are used! They will rally support or tear apart. Research the history and intention behind the hashtags you use.
Be ready. When you make a mistake, be willing and ready to own the mistake quickly. It’s important to take responsibility for something you did, said, or posted. That process, for me, has be painful, embarrassing and time consuming, yet a necessary step in the education of my what I now know was my #whiteprivilege.
Be aware. Unfortunately, there’s something with human nature that is attracted to adrenaline of negativity. A post can easily catch fire when there’s something to attack or criticize, yet retraction and attempts to repair are slow to build momentum. This is why riots get front page news coverage, and the peaceful protests barely made the news. Please consider commenting on educationally-oriented, positive posts as much as posts you are initially polarized toward.
Be care-full. Comment in informed, non-bias ways Read up on topics such as Spiritual Bypassing, White Privilege, Systemic Racism and Confirmation Bias. It’s important to educate yourself and not expect to be spoon fed by those who you could possibly offend.
Be proactive. At SWIHA we have long used the term “Blesson” — meaning we look for the blessings in the lesson. In the particular case, all the hot and fiery emotions has created a corporate resolve to become a part of the education solution.
Most importantly, we are being called to listen.
In many classes at SWIHA, especially in our yoga classes, you are urged to listen to your body and be aware of your mind chatter. We also emphasize that most of your yoga is done off of the mat! This can translate into listening to others (especially BIPOC in this moment) and being aware of the privileges you were born in to. Of course, this applies beyond yoga to any healing art you choose to practice. Take your inner work out into the world for the purpose of offering peace and healing to others.
Since I have chosen to confront this issue head on, “Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable” has taken on a new meaning.
This last week a woman of color shared a story with me that deeply impacted me. She trusted me enough to share the details of a residual wound from childhood based on an encounter that may have lasted less than a few minutes, yet on a visceral level, I could feel the story was still in her body.
I choose to spare the specific and potentially triggering details, yet consider this abbreviated version of the story:
She was about 10 or 12 years old, standing in line at a variety store, waiting her turn to check out. In front of her was a white father and son. They noticed her, and she noticed them . She tells of reflexively averting her eyes – she had been taught to do that to keep herself as invisible as possible.
The man turns to his son and says something. He says it loud, with the intention for her to hear. It’s a violent racist comment that, looking back, the son may or may not even fully understood. She understood it! Her body felt it, and she has carried those seconds of fear for years.
Most likely, the first seeds of racism had being planted in the innocent mind of the son, against and about people who were born with a different skin tone. Chances are good that the father, as well as others in that family or community continued to plant seeds of judgement, prejudice and hatred. This is how systemic and generational racism works.
While listening to this account, I could feel the deep discomfort and anguish in the voice of the storyteller. So much so, that I felt it in my own body. It brought me to the realization that it has been my own white privilege to not understand trauma as deep as this. I pledge/we pledge to stop staying comfortable! We will bear witness to the stories that will inform our conscious actions moving forward.
Silence and passive allyship doesn’t offer a solution. In the words of political activist Angela Davis, “It is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.”
This is what we are doing immediately:
We are hosting a series of “Listen In” sessions where we are inviting the community to Listen, Lean In, and Learn. We believe in the sharing of stories will come solutions. (We have heard concern that we will ask BIPOC to ‘tell us’ what to do. Our intention is not to burden that community further. We will be listening, integrating, and acting on our new understanding.)
The first “Listen In” is scheduled for Saturday, June 6, 2020 at 2 pm (add more details. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This session will be facilitated by a certified POC Facilitator, following the guidelines as outlined in a publication resourced from blacklivesmatter.com.
A virtual “Listen In” will be offered as an immediate follow up to the first session.
The July Gifts and Graces will be dedicated to the education of #blacklivesmatter. Educational speakers are being finalized.
SWIHA is committed to having its instructors and staff complete Racism and Diversity training modeled from the work of Patti Digh – Hard Conversations on Racism.
We are created an outgoing ACTION STEP guide for what we, as well as others, can do to educate ourselves on the #blacklivesmatter needs of our community, and the country
We are listening! We care, deeply. We are going to do more, and be better! SWIHA commits to walk beside BIPOC people as they continue this vital movement. This is not political. It’s personal. It’s human rights.
We have the opportunity to band together as a community to be a powerful force for peaceful, conscious and right change. Let’s turn our good intentions in to meaningful actions. We will answer this call. #blacklivesmatter